Five Ideas for a Better Beginning Band Winter Concert

If you teach beginning band like I do, you know that preparing for the Winter Concert is a huge challenge. Here are a few ideas to make that first performance a little better.

Music Staff Christmas Tree1. Use piano accompaniment. Let’s face it: A unison rendition of Hot Cross Buns and Jingle Bells is pretty frightening. Having a piano accompanist who can fill out the harmonies will go a long way in adding color. Ever since I started using a pianist about 10 years ago, I can’t imagine doing it any other way. Hint: Decide on your metronome markings in advance and tell your accompanist. Also, bring in the accompanist at least once before the performance to get the students used to the idea.

2. Feature various instrument groups at the beginning of each song. For example, the clarinets might play Mary Had a Little Lamb alone (with piano) first, and then the rest of the ensemble joins them on the repeat. Hint: Feature your strongest section on your most difficult piece, and a weaker section on an easier piece. For me, that usually means the trombones get featured on Hot Cross Buns, and the clarinets get featured on Jingle Bells.

3. Allow a student to introduce the songs to the audience. You’ll want to select a student with a good speaking voice, not necessarily your best musician. Rehearse their speech with them. (By speech, I mean “Our first song is Hot Cross Buns. It will feature the trumpets.”)

4. Give parents a moment to take pictures while the students are on stage with their instruments. I didn’t start doing this until I had children of my own, and my wife took a gazillion photos of every move they made. Now I appreciate the fact that parents want to capture the moment.

5. Make sure there is at least one administrator and another teacher at the performance. If your concert features more than one ensemble, you need someone to supervise the students who aren’t performing. And if a more serious incident occurs during the performance – like an injury, a squabble among parents, a power outage, etc. – you’ll need an administrator to manage that issue while you lead your performers.

Any other bright ideas? Share them here!

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Honor Band & Orchestra Concert Reflections Part I: Celebrating Excellence

Last night was my district’s Honor Band and Orchestra concert. In another post, I have written about the audition process.

During the concert, I was struck by the importance of events like this. In the introduction and welcome, our district music coordinator spoke highly of the students and faculty for all their hard work. He introduced a few dignitaries from the district and the local music community. Each of them spoke proudly of our music program, offering kind words about the accomplishments of various students and teachers.

In the day to day grind, we all face difficulties, distractions, interruptions, discipline issues, and disappointment about lack of student progress. Sometimes we might even wonder if all our energy is misspent or fruitless. But events like honor concerts give everyone a reminder that our efforts are not in vain. True, not every student with an instrument gets to participate, and the musical selections might be challenging even to those who pass the audition. But isn’t that the point?

Events like this allow us to focus on the accomplishments of students who actually do practice, take private lessons, invest in quality instruments, and generally take music seriously. Honor groups allow us to correct the instrumentation flaws which might exist in our schools. They allow us to combine the best musicians from one school with the best musicians from another school and create something better than any one teacher could produce alone. They give us the opportunity to bring in guest conductors or even performers who we might not otherwise be able to have work with our groups. And most importantly, we give our students the opportunity to create music as part of an exceptional ensemble, where each musician is as dedicated as they are to striving for excellence.